Monday, May 11 was a dark day in Florida Tech history. Not just in the history of sports at Florida Tech, but for the entire college. President T. Dwayne McCay announced the decision to eliminate the football program, founded in 2011. The same football program that produced 18-All Americans, had an overall record of 44-35 in seven seasons, including a 26-24 record in the Gulf South Conference which is widely considered the toughest conference in Division II College Football. The Panthers also made the NCAA playoffs twice.
The conference released a statement Monday, shortly after the decision was made public.
Head coach Steve Englehart granted sportslowdown.com an interview on Tuesday, reflecting on his time at Florida Tech.
“I think we put a lot of hard work into it and the hard work went unnoticed,” he said. “The people at the top have to make tough decisions and it always comes down to money and this is a difficult time for everybody. We were just a casualty.”
Englehart was there from the beginning. He is the man responsible for building this program from the ground up. He was hired on July 1, 2011, and spent two years putting a program together that would not even begin playing until September 7, 2013.
“The toughest part of building this was bringing everyone together, it really could have been a gold mine if everyone from the community and university got behind the program and supported it from beginning to end. We built something great here and something everyone should have been proud of.”
Englehart was not told of the decision by McCay, instead, it was interim Athletic Director Pete Mazzone.
“I got the call yesterday to meet at 8:30 to meet with him and when he told me, my first reaction was shock,” he said. “I guess after the shock set in, I wasn’t surprised. I knew they (the college) were going through tough times and I thought staff and budget cuts were probably coming, but I never thought the whole program would be cut.”
Following his meeting, Englehart told his coaches of the decision and then held a Zoom meeting with his players to break the news to them.
“They were pretty stunned probably had no idea,” Englehart said of his players’ reaction. “I at least knew that some changes were possible, but they had no idea. It was tough to tell them and tough to tell them on a Zoom call. Some of them are muted and others were tough to see, but you could tell that they were visibly upset.”
The recruiting season had been completed, players were signed and there were 120 players ready to suit up for the 2020 season, whenever that start happened. Englehart said he didn’t give much thought to the timing of the decision because recruiting was done, and scheduling was in the final stages.
“I think it had everything to do with Covid-19,” he said. “We were recruiting up through February and this didn’t really make it here until March. I don’t think the timing could really be helped.”
Of the 120 players on the squad 80 of them are getting at least some scholarship help. Early indications are that many of those players are gearing up to leave the school.
“These kids came here to play football and most of them have told me they’re leaving,” said Englehart. “There are kids who are juniors and seniors that will stay because they are so close to finishing their degree and it wouldn’t make sense for them to leave.”
When asked what he wanted people to remember about this program, Englehart was quick with an answer.
“I think the biggest thing is to remember the kids we brought in were good students and good people, I want them to remember the good they did,” he said. “Some of these kids were given a chance to get a great education that may not have been able to afford it. That is what I loved to see.”
As a coach, the goal when you leave a program is to leave it better than you found it. You want to leave it in great shape so the next coach can come in and pick things up and carry the program forward. Englehart said it is unfortunate that he won’t be able to do that.
Obviously, this is new territory for the coach, and it is tough to know what the future holds this early on, but it is a decision he does not have to rush into.
“I’m gonna take it slow and get through this day by day,” he said. “I have some freedom to do that. I will coach again, but I want to reinvent myself and go see other coaches and other programs and learn from them while seeing what else is out there for me.”
Englehart also has his real estate license so he will be putting that to good use during this time as well.
From a personal standpoint, as a member of the media that started covering this team in 2016, this has still not set in. I give every sport we cover for the website all I have, but I was partial to football, I was partial to Florida Tech football. The players, coaches, and especially Coach Englehart gave me more access than I deserved. He is a phenomenal coach which is easy to see, but even more than that, he is a better person. He never denied an interview after a tough game never turned me away at 9:00 in the morning after a tough practice.
He was always there, always available and always positive, even during this difficult phone call, giving me an interview, he did not have to. Thank you to coach Englehart for everything. It was a true pleasure to cover his teams and this program over the past few years.